Photo: Rick & Nora Bowers/Vireo

Canvasback

Aythya valisineria

This big diving duck, the largest of its genus, is wary and swift in flight, earning the respect of sportsmen. It is a characteristic bird of prairie marshes in summer and saltwater bays in winter. The Canvasback dives for its food, mainly the bases and roots of plants growing underwater. Its specific name of valisineria refers to the technical name of wild celery, an aquatic plant that is among its favored foods.
Conservation status Numbers vary from year to year, but species has been generally declining for some time. Loss of nesting habitat may be the main threat.
Family Ducks and Geese
Habitat Lakes, salt bays, estuaries; in summer, fresh marshes. For nesting shallow marshes in prairie regions. Also large marshy lake complexes to the north, in boreal forest regions, and a few to edge of tundra. In migration mostly on large lakes. Winters mainly near coast, on protected bays and estuaries; also on lakes in interior.
This big diving duck, the largest of its genus, is wary and swift in flight, earning the respect of sportsmen. It is a characteristic bird of prairie marshes in summer and saltwater bays in winter. The Canvasback dives for its food, mainly the bases and roots of plants growing underwater. Its specific name of valisineria refers to the technical name of wild celery, an aquatic plant that is among its favored foods.
Photo Gallery
  • adult male
  • adult female
  • immature female (1st yr)
  • adult males
  • adult male
  • adults (male and female)
Feeding Behavior

Dives for food, usually in water only a few feet deep. In very shallow water may stir up bottom sediments with feet, then up-end to feed; also takes some food from surface of water.


Eggs

7-12. Olive-gray. Redheads often lay eggs in Canvasback nests; when this happens, female Canvasback is likely to lay fewer eggs. Incubation is by female only, 23-28 days. Young: several hours after hatching, young are led to open water by female. Young feed themselves. Female remains with young for several weeks, but departs before they fledge; young are capable of flight roughly 60-70 days after hatching.


Young

several hours after hatching, young are led to open water by female. Young feed themselves. Female remains with young for several weeks, but departs before they fledge; young are capable of flight roughly 60-70 days after hatching.

Diet

Mostly plant material. Mainly eats the leaves, roots, and seeds of aquatic plants: pondweeds, wild celery, sedges, grasses, and others. Also eats mollusks, insects, some small fish. In one study in summer, adult males continued to eat mostly plants, while females and young fed on aquatic insect larvae.


Nesting

Pair formation occurs mostly at stopover points during spring migration. Several males may court 1 female. Displays of male include snapping the head far back and then thrusting it forward, while giving clicking and cooing callnotes. Nest site is in marsh, in stands of dense vegetation above shallow water. Sometimes on dry ground. Nest (built by female) is basketlike and bulky, built of dead vegetation, lined with down.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Generally migrates late in fall and early in spring. Migrating flocks fly high, often in V-formation. During years of major drought on the northern Great Plains, many Canvasbacks continue moving north, with larger numbers appearing in Alaska.

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Migration

Generally migrates late in fall and early in spring. Migrating flocks fly high, often in V-formation. During years of major drought on the northern Great Plains, many Canvasbacks continue moving north, with larger numbers appearing in Alaska.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Males grunt or croak; females quack.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
Learn more about this sound collection.

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